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Proposal to DNA-test Wisconsin sex crime suspects raises concerns

A proposal that would require police in Wisconsin to collect DNA samples for anyone arrested of a serious sex crime or other offense is getting some pushback from the American Civil Liberties Union and others concerned about the rights of suspects.

It's not clear exactly what offenses would fall under the new plan, which Gov. Scott Walker plans to revive despite the controversy surrounding it. So far he's said only that it would include "some felonies and serious sex-related offenses."

Currently, DNA is only taken after police obtain a warrant or a suspect is convicted of a felony or one of several misdemeanor sex crimes. If the proposal passes, Wisconsin would become the 26th state to collect DNA from people who are arrested but not yet convicted of a crime. That means that even if you're innocent, the government will have your DNA on file to compare with samples in future crimes. Your sample would only be expunged from the database if you aren't charged within the next year, or are found not guilty. And even then, you'll need to specifically request that your DNA sample be removed.

The ACLU and other civil liberties advocates say a vast DNA collection of suspects does very little to make society safer. The head of Wisconsin's ACLU chapter says the effectiveness of DNA databases lies not in the number of samples, but in the accuracy of DNA profiles collected at the scene of a crime.

But it's not just these groups that are concerned about the proposal. Law enforcement agencies across the state have said the process would add a significant burden to their officers' workload. It would also be expensive for the state's three crime labs to process tens of thousands of extra DNA samples. The state Justice Department estimates that reimbursing police departments and hiring additional staff would cost an additional $4 million in the first year of implementation. It would also drive up the current two-month wait time for all DNA analysis.

The proposal is expected to be included in the governor's next state budget, but there are a lot of questions that need to be answered before it's put in place. Stay tuned for further developments.

Source: Post-Crescent.com, "Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's DNA plan prompts concerns," Paul Srubas, April 16, 2012

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